Android Alternative Web Browsers Review Comparison: Dolphin HD vs. Opera Mini, xScope, Skyfire, Firefox, Miren, and more
REVIEW PLATFORM: Motorola Droid Bionic running stock 2.3.4 Gingerbread.
Updated 04-JUL-2012, added NineSky, Maxthon
Updated 07-JUL-2012, added iBrowser, QQ Browser, Easy Browser, Cyber Analyzer Browser (Free), Espier Browser
The default web browser on Android (named just "browser") is actually pretty good for a mobile web browser. However, as with any operating system that encourages development, you soon have better items appearing. Here you will see the major competitors (Mozilla Firefox, Opera, xScope, Dolphin, and Skyfire), as well as a few no-names!
With advent of two major web browser players, Opera Mobile, and Firefox Mobile (codename Fennec) joining the Android platform as well, the mobile Android web browser competition is heating up. Which Android mobile web browser is worth your download?
The built-in mobile web browser, based on the Webkit engine, is optimized for mobile operations. It has text reflow (auto-format) to fit the screen, pinch zoom, and it will do multiple windows but no onscreen tabs. Its speed is decent and it serves as a good baseline for comparison.
Pros: geo-location, auto-format to fit screen-width, pinch zoom/unzoom, multiple windows, decent speed
Cons: nothing fancy
Rating: 5 out of 10 (baseline)
Opera 5 Mini Web Browser
Opera is one of the biggest names in browsers, except Firefox and Internet Explorer. Opera emphasizes speed above all else and Opera 5 Mini does not disappoint.
Opera 5 Mini Web Browser improves speed by operating a set of proxy cache servers to speed up access to popular sites, as well claiming an advanced rendering engine that is faster than anything else on the market. There is also a litany of other features, such as multi-window browsing, a startup page "grid" that lists the most often used websites (including your bookmarks). It also has online backup of your bookmarks and settings and "saved pages", keyboard shortcuts, among other features.
Opera 5 mini does have a few problems. It does NOT support geo-location (i.e. the browser can't get coordinates from your GPS). Latest version does support intents (i.e. pick up "default" settings). It does NOT support pinch zoom (though you can use 3 different text sizes and a few different zoom levels). It does not respond to the "menu" key at all. It also does not "reformat" the columns to fit within the screen like the default "browser", among other problems.
Subjectively, Opera 5 mini is the most "desktop-like" browser (with Dolphin Mini and xScope just behind). It has a URL bar, and a search bar next to it. There is also a toolbar at the bottom. Though if you really need more space, turn on the "full screen" mode. It also does feel faster than the default browser.
Pros: faster, online backup, startup "grid" of sites, better interface
Cons: no geo-location, no re-formatting, no pinch zoom
Rating: 8.5 out of 10
xScope 6 Web Browser Trial
It has a strange name, but xScope is one of the first alternate browsers on the market that does offer a lot of features beyond the default. It has theme support (in reality, just replaces all the toolbar icons). It is also quite fast, has a starting "grid", and interface that may be even MORE sophisticated than Opera's, fully supporting pinch zoom, tabbed browsing, and more.
it also has a file browser and task manager built-in to the browser, and all that in a package that's barely over 500K (compared to others that's 3-5 times larger!) Tight code means fast performance, and xScope does not disappoint.
The recently launched Version 6 has no ads. The older Version 5 is now free and known as xScope Lite.
Problems? It is virtually unheard of (what this review is trying to change!), and it does not do that online backup or saved pages that Opera does. Subjectively, xScope is fast and multi-functional. If you need a browser that does a lot of things, xScope is worthy of your attention.
Pros: fast, startup bookmarks, interface, theme support
Cons: funny name
Rating: 8 out of 10
NOTE: Full version is $2.99 in App Market
Dolphin and Dolphin HD (for Android) Web Browsers
Dolphin browser, which has another version called Dolphin HD, is a branch off the main Android browser development. It is sometimes known as the TunnyBrowser (I have no idea why). It has gesture support, tabbed browsing (the tabs actually show on screen), download videos, and a bunch of other little enhancements. It also has a *share* button allowing to share a webpage through any available means (del.icio.us, Digg, and more), as well as syncs bookmarks with Google Bookmarks. It also has a "read it later" button, and RSS subscriptions.
Problems? It does not do geolocation (this may be fixed in the HD version), and speed-wise, subjectively it is slower than the default browser. Somehow it doesn't feel that "special" when compared to Opera or xScope, except gestures.
Most recent versions of Dolphin HD introduced a lot of plug-ins, and many are very useful, like quickdial, ad blocker, and more.
Pros: gestures (which also turns on the toolbar), real tabs on screen, share and sync, plug-ins
Cons: no geolocation (?) , slower
Rating: 8 out of 10
Dolphin Mini Web Browser
Dolphin Mini is a new branch off the Dolphin tree. It is much smaller (less than 1 MB in size when regular Dolphin HD is twice as big), but kept most of the features, such as tabs, Quick Dial (starter page), gestures, and much more. It doesn't take Dolphin plug-ins, but otherwise this is a full-featured browser. (It will do Flash if you have it)
This is one of the best choice for Android if you don't want to run a full browser such as Firefox Fennec or Opera Mobile. (The other choice would be Opera Mini)
Rating: 9 out 10
Skyfire 4: Social Web Browser
Skyfire aims to be a different browser, and its main claim to fame is partial support of Flash Video, and now, Facebook and Twitter integration, making web browsing a far more social experience.
Some websites have a Flash app playing a video. If that app was written properly, Skyfire can play it despite lack of support for Flash in the browser itself. Obviously, this does not work all the time, and it only works because Skyfire actually sends the request to the Skyfire server, which then does a server-side conversion before serving the converted video to you. However, it seems to work on most websites. (Apparently this feature is now trial only, and you need to pay $2.99 to unlock it completely).
Like Opera, Skyfire allow you to change between "desktop" mode vs. "mobile" mode by changing its "user-Agent" (i.e. browser ID) to force the auto-detecting websites to display one type vs. the other. In fact, it has a button right on the toolbar to do so. In Version 4, the "skybar" toolbar is now user-configurable and scrollable. There's also a lot more support on news feeds, such as Google Reader and news topics like finance, sports, etc. Finally, almost anything on the website, from the title to individual items can be easily shared.
Overall, it's good browser if you want your browsing experience to be more social.
Pros: Flash video conversion, social integration
Cons: not that useful if you don't use social networks much, esp. Facebook and Twitter
Rating: 8 out of 10
Boat Browser claims to be HTML5 compatible, as pretty as Safari, AND as fast as xScope. I've tried it a few times, and it is pretty good, but it doesn't have any special feel to it. I've tried it for two weeks and it doesn't feel anything really special. For now it's temporary rating of 7.
Rating: 7 out of 10
Opera Mobile Web Browser
Opera Mobile is a separate product from Opera Mini, which was already on the Android Market for a while. Opera Mobile is a full browser, while Opera Mini relies on the Opera servers to pre-render the page and then sends it down to your browser. For the difference between the two, please see here.
Opera Mobile just left beta, and is an almost 7 MB download (so do it over WiFi or unlimited data plan) that expands to 16 megs after install (12 megs after move to SD). Operationally it looks and feels just like Opera Mini, but the graphics rendering feels a bit better but slower. Feeling wise this seem to render webpages more accurately. Try this only on a 1 GHz Android with 512MB of RAM or BETTER device, please.
Pros: Full Opera "Presto" rendering engine, very desktop like
Cons: not fully compliant with Android UI, very large footprint compared to other browsers, still glitchy
Rating: 8 out of 10
Firefox Mobile 4.0.1
Firefox Mobile (codename Fennec) is the full browser ported to run on mobile devices. It has all of the desktop browser features, such as Awesome Bar, Sync, and Add-ons, plus all the other features needed for a mobile browser, like pinch zoom, tabbed browsing, and so on.
The final version feels very similar to Opera Mobile. Rendering feels pretty good, but the size!?! 14MB download! Official page says 17MB storage needed on phone, runs best on devices with 512MB of RAM or more. The original Moto Droid is NOT on the recommended hardware list. On the list are Droid X or Droid 2, Droid Incredible, EVO 4G, Nexus One, and such.
If you have the hardware to run it, this is one of the best mobile browsers available, almost on par with desktop experience.
Pros: very desktop like browser with real browser features
Cons: HUGE footprint, sumo-sized, not quite compatible with older hardware
Rating: 8 out of 10
And some alternative choices...
Besides the "big 5" browsers (browser, xScope, Skyfire, Opera, and Dolphin) we have already profiled, there are several other smaller browsers that may be worth a look...
By the same guy who brought you Galapagos Browser (see below), Angel Browser is the next version of Galapagos, with some UI tweaks seemingly inspired by Dolphin Mini. The original app website is in Japanese, but don't let that deter you. This app is small (800K APK) but there is a lot of power under the hood, hiding in the menus. Most items are customizable, changeable, and so on. Definitely worth a try.
NetFront Life Browser V2
This is a weird duck indeed. It seem to be based on the same Webkit core as the other browsers like Android Browser, Skyfire, Dolphin, and so on, and yet it looks completely different! The "main" screen is composed of 2 portions... The top is a sort of "preview" multi-window in "rotating panel" format. If you have multiple windows open just flick right or left to switch among them. The bottom is composed of three "card catalogs" that are actually your bookmarks, your history, and something called a "scrapbook" where you save web clippings.
A new interesting feature is called "tilt mode", where the browser can be held at 45 degree angle which gives you a larger screen without going full landscape. Is it useful? I don't know.
The scrapbook idea seem to be half-baked. The "scrap book" can't seem to be exported to anything, and the "free-form" capture is incredibly difficult to use, and can capture only one screen at a time. There is supposed to be Evernote integration, but that just means you can clip and area and "share" that to Evernote. Once you've clipped it to scrap book nothing can be done with it.
Give it a try, but just beware after the initial "wow" you may be a bit underwhelmed by the actual functionality
Rating: 7.5 out of 10
This browser, based on Webkit, is low on graphical flair and high on capabilities that rivals a lot desktop browsers.
When you start it you'll only see a small "tab bar" on top, and a small toolbar below (or on the left in landscape mode). The tab bar is for managing tabs. This browser has the standard "open in new tab" features if you press-hold a link.
The toolbar is customizable and have 6 functions. If you don't like the buttons press-hold the spot and pick one of the dozens of functions in the browser, from translate (calls Google Translate) to screenshot (that's right, of the ENTIRE webpage, not just the screen).
Unfortunately, the browser is virtually undocumented. There's ONE help page (that's online) that describes the basic features of the browser but not the additional functions within.
Give it a try. At only 500KB, this browser is lightweight and quite speedy, yet full-featured.
Rating: 7.5 out of 10?
Technically it should be Mi-Zen, but that's Chinese pinyin system for you. It means "attractive" (literally "bewitching people"), Miren is a Chinese Android browser ported to English, and occasionally you'll still find a few bits in Chinese that wasn't translated (such as "page loading, please wait").
Miren tries to use the full screen available, by making the onscreen controls auto-hide. It does reflow/reformat, but rather unpredictably. It works on some pages and not others. Pinch zoom/unzoom doesn't always work either. It seem to depend on whether you've loaded a mobile site or the regular site.
On the other hand, it has some features I haven't seen on other browsers such as "bandwidth saver" (pipes all output through Baidu search engine's "mobile view", which dumps all the formating and pictures, keeping only text. Google has equivalent feature first, but no browser seem to use nowadays). It also has a "brightness" button that allows you to control brightness slider from within the browser instead of going somewhere else. It also has some intelligent features like "stop all downloads when leaving WiFi", or load pictures/Flash on WiFi connection only, download on WiFi only, and so on.
It also has a huge "starter page" that lists all the interesting websites you may visit, but I don't see any way to edit it.
As a browser, it seems to be a wee bit slow compared to others.
Overall, Miren is an odd duck that looks good, have some interesting functions. It is worth a try, but I don't see it replacing Dolphin or such.
Rating: 8 out of 10
Zirco is another alternative browser that actually looks pretty good and useful. Most functions are hidden in a toolbar similar to Dolphin / Dolphin Mini, and it imports bookmarks from standard browser. It also has an adblocker. it should support Flash as well. Worth a look, esp. if you want a peek at the source code, as it's open source.
Rating: 6.5 out of 10
Ultralight Web Browser
Has NO features other than to browse, so it's pretty darn fast, but it's another webkit-derivative. No plug-ins, no zoom, no reflow/reformat, nothing. In fact, it won't respond to the menu key at all. All controls are hidden under a small 'control' button, and there are only 4 buttons: back, forward, refresh, stop.
Really, that's it.
It's under 50KB in size. That's right, UNDER 50KB. That's light indeed. If you need basic browser, this is pretty good, but don't expect any advanced features.
Rating: 6 out of 10
Browser Plus appears to be a half-hearted effort to expand "browser", by slapping an ugly intro screen, and using radio buttons as 'tabs' to introduce more browse tabs. Other than that, it really has no special abilities. Furthermore, it's buggy and annoying. The Google box can't accept any words to search. The URL box has a word pre-inputed that you must delete first to enter your own stuff. Actual browsing shows it's just a standard Webkit browser bloated to almost 2MB in size. Why?
Rating: 5 out of 10
Infinity Browser tries to be more of an "international" browser by incorporating Google Translate as well as the text-to-speech engine. However, I can never get the TTS to work, and it does not say the whole page. I had to highlight a section, then click on "say", and that just doesn't work somehow. It tries, but it can't deliver.
Rating: 6 out of 10
Appbrain link to Infinity Browser (no longer available)
More of an experiment than a real browser, NetDroid's main feature is "tilt scrolling": set a "neutral" attitude, then tilt up to scroll down, tilt down to scroll up. However, it gets very annoying at times. Other than this, it has no other special features.
Rating: 5 out of 10
Seems like a clone of Dolphin 1.X, don't see anything special about it at all.
Rating: 5 out of 10
UC Browser English
UC Browser started as a Chinese browser, and the English version was only released later, much later. mobile browser either. However, there are some reports that all throughput went through the "Great Firewall of China", that search filter that Google objected to. So this may not quite be up your alley. It also crashes on my Moto Droid.
Rating: None, cannot evaluate
Maxthon started its life as MyIE2 on WIndows, by borrowing the Internet Explorer browser engine but added lots of new capabilities to it. That lead to Maxthon for Android.
Maxthon Browser for Android is a pretty impressive browser that is free. It has a decent start page that has the links you may want to go to, as well as almost all the capabilities of the big guys like Dolphin including gestures, page caching so if you hit "back" you end up there instantly, and there is also bookmark sync to cloud, and themes (though those are pretty limited). There is also WWW vs. WAP mode.
There is also a separate tablet version.
Not bad, worth a try. Nothing too special though.
NineSky browser is an import from China, and it is a decent browser, albeit nothing too special. It looks a lot like the other browsers, like Galapagos browser with the base toolbar.
It claims a couple special features, like cloud bookmarks, security warnings, private mode (also low-bandwidth mode and normal mode), and supports three different search engines.
Nothing too special when you use it though.
iBrowser and QQ Browser are nearly identical, as if they were made by the same team. The only difference between the interface is one has a start page customized for an Indian audience (iBrowser), while the other is customized toward a Chinese / Western audience (QQ Browser)
The two appears to be identical in all other aspects. Indeed, both are called "MTT".
They are not bad, as they have a couple features, like night mode, private mode, and so on. However, even there the descriptions are nearly identical.
You can try them, but unless you really want a custom browser for your locale there's no real reason to use these vs. the other major choices.
Another import from China, this one claims to be better than all other browsers, but didn't quite live up to the hype. While speed is decent, it has NO special features at all. It seems to be a very generic version of Webkit browser. Even the logo is borrowed from Internet Explorer. Not much reason to try this one.
CyberAnalyzer Browser (free)
NOTE: Full version available for $1.99
CyberAnalyzer Browser is a standard Android webkit browser, except it has several tabs that will show you the source code, CSS, and other background things that you normally don't see. If you want to see what's hiding in the source code and CSS and such, use this browser.
Espier Browser from a team in China is almost an EXACT clone of the iOS Safari browser, right down to the menu choices. The ON/OFF toggle switch is unmistakably iOS, as is the overall interface. Performance is below par compared to other browsers, and Flash compatibility is somewhat iffy, as the plug-in seem to have some problems.
Unless you're trying to fool your friends into thinking you got an iPhone, there's not much reason to use this browser vs. the "big boys".
So which browsers are worth your download? Depends on your needs.
If you prefer speed, try Opera Mini or Dolphin Mini
For tabbed browsing, Dolphin HD or XScope should satisfy your needs.
If you must have video now in your browser but don't want Flash, or if you want social network integration, try SkyFire
None of the other "minority browsers" are quite worth downloading thus far except maybe Netfront Life Browser.
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